I had a few very traditional spring choices in mind, but I tried to keep an open mind.
Boy howdy, am I glad I did.
I ended up choosing beets. Some very pretty golden beets tinged with the blush of magenta. They were so pretty and that’s why they initially caught my eye.
More on my thought process in a moment.
Because I am so excited about what I came up with I just have to tell you immediately, and get that out of the way.
I did a Beet Salad. Once I chose beets I knew I wanted to do a salad because I wanted to do a recipe that included both the beet and the beet greens. It does kill me when I hear people at the market ask to have their greens cut off the beets.
Beet greens are the be all, and end all when it comes to leafy greens. They belong to the same family as chard and spinach. Beet leaves also have a complex slightly bitter taste like chard and I prefer them cooked in some fashion. They are super rich in chlorophyll and have an overall higher nutritional value than the root, or what we call the beet itself.
But like I said I had a salad planned. So I decided I would turn the traditional idea of a salad on its head. When you think of salad greens you typically think raw leafy veggies as the central component.
On the other hand when you think about beets, whether in a salad or part of another recipe you tend to think of them as cooked. In fact just the phrase roasted beets sets me to salivating. I know it’s the same for you.
To them (you??) I say, â€œâ€¦Because you havenâ€™t gotten past elementary school cafeteria beetsâ€. Those are not beets those are torture.
Real beets are sweet, sure. But they are also nutty, with a mineral allure. They are in fact very earthy. In a way, they taste like really good soil. Or at least how I imagine really good soil might taste.
OK I admit it. I have eaten dirt. I was a skinny kid, I got picked on.
But back to beets.
So as I sit here typing you can be assured that my fingers are not stained. Besides, I am going for a very simple clean modern look in my plating, so I’ll need a very pristine presentation.
The vital bit of information I am holding back is why I chose beets. Especially when there are so many other usual springtime culprits available to me at the Farmers Market.
Like I said I was originally drawn to their prettiness. But at the farm stand where I purchased them they like to give out sample tastes. Well, Gustavo the man behind the beets was not just passing out sliced raw beets. Nope, his beets were raw but they had been marinated in lemon juice and cayenne.
Well I just about flipped! They were so spectacular. I had never had beets prepared this way. It was truly a â€œlife momentâ€. I always collect life moments so as to remember the feeling you had when something original crosses your path, no matter how fleeting.
Sometimes these moments are full-blown experiences (skydiving was one). But they are often fleeting feelings that are hard to define.
But for me they can be taste experiences too. This was one of them.
This salad recipe is my way of honoring this particular â€œlife momentâ€.
I do not know if this is an ethnic presentation of beets. I canâ€™t exactly say what ethnicity Gustavo is (I could hardly pull my gaze off those beets). But to me there was a Moroccan vibe to this particular life moment.
So I am doing the beets exactly as Gustavo did, but the greens that accompany them are going to be very North African in flavor. Cumin. Garlic. Paprika. Oregano. I have had a Moroccan salad of cooked greens with those sorts of flavors before. So this salad popped into my head fully formed. I did not have to make it and test it as I often do. I got this one right on the first try!
To make this you are going to need to peel the beets. This is not as tortuous as it sounds. The golden beets also help make the job less messy.
This means, of course, you will need to use a mandoline. Unless you are my brother, Grant. I have seen him cut that uniformly thin before. I would end up with lots of misshapen slices.
My bunch came with 5 beets. This is enough to feed four to six people. This recipe for beet salad is based on that.
Put the very thin, uniformly round beets slices into a bowl along with the juice of 2 or 3 lemons. You want plenty of juice, but it does not need to be soupy.
I used a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Which was my attempt to emulate the amount of heat in Gustavoâ€™s beets. But if you like spicy 1 1/2 teaspoons is a good way to go. Any hotter and you might overpower the beet flavor.
Clean the beet greens. Spinach or chard are good substitutes. But if you have beets then you probably have the greens too. You might as well use them.
Beets can really get sandy and gritty so I find it best to totally submerge them in their colander in a large bowl of cool water. Agitate them well and leave to soak a few minutes. Then lift out the colander, drain the water, refill the bowl and repeat until there is no grit. (This is both easier and much more effective than the running water and colander method.)
Roll a stack of beets leaves lengthwise, like a cigar. Then slice across the roll making perfect chiffonades about 1/4 inch wide.
Put the greens into a big pot with a lid. Add a tablespoon or two of water. Cover the pot and bring what little liquid there is to a boil. Turn off the heat and leave the lid on for 5 or 6 minutes before proceeding.
Next put the greens back into the colander and press out as much liquid as you can.
Slice 4 garlic cloves and put them into a large frying pan with 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. SautÃ© them at medium high until garlic begins to brown.
Remove the pan from the heat and add 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, along with a few grinds of black pepper.
Stir in the barely steamed greens adding a bit of olive oil if the mixture seems dry.
Mound the greens onto the center of a serving dish and give them a good squeeze of lemon juice. Surround the greens with plenty of the raw marinated golden beets.
A good drizzle of olive oil finishes the dish. Serve at room temperature.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD